Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Rise in Jobcentre attacks condemned

There has been an increase in the number of attacks on staff working at Jobcentre Plus

It is "deeply troubling" that the number of assaults against Jobcentre staff has doubled in the wake of the Government's welfare reforms, shadow work and pensions minister Stephen Timms said.

The Labour MP said the sharp rise in the number of attacks against staff at Jobcentre Plus was a reflection of the strain employees were under to get the unemployed back in to work.

He said the rise in physical assaults coincided with an increase in the number of "sanctions" against claimants, where benefits are withheld.

Mr Timms submitted a number of written parliamentary questions to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), which revealed abuse against Jobcentre Plus staff has increased, with more than one physical attack a day reported over the last year.

According to DWP figures, there were 476 actual assaults reported in 2012/13 by Jobcentre Plus staff, compared to 228 in 2009/10, before the coalition was formed.

Of the 476 assaults reported last year, 80 resulted in cuts and bruises and 23 in an injury greater than a cut or a bruise.

In the first six months of this financial year, 248 assaults were recorded at a rate of more than one a day.

Mr Timms said: "These figures are deeply troubling. They reflect growing pressure on Jobcentre staff as benefit cuts kick in and sanctions rocket."

Public and Commercial Services union general secretary Mark Serwotka said the figures were "shocking but unsurprising".

The union chief said: " Alongside a wider assault on public services and those who provide them, the Government has launched the most disgusting campaign of vilification against the sick, disabled and unemployed in a bid to justify cutting the benefits to which they are entitled.

"It is shocking but unsurprising that we are seeing an increase in attacks on Jobcentre staff in the wake of this, no one goes into the employment service to be in conflict with claimants, and ministers must bear full responsibility and blame."

As of September 2011, the last year for which information is available, the number of staff employed by Jobcentre Plus was 75,323, across 718 offices.

Jobcentre Plus, which is part of the Department for Work and Pensions and aims to get working-age people off welfare and into employment, manages the provision of out-of-work benefits.

In January 2007, the then Labour administration began a programme of efficiency savings, during which many Jobcentre branches were closed down. The Labour Government was subsequently criticised, once the recession took hold in late 2008, and more staff were needed to deal with the surge in unemployed people.

In 2008/9, the previous high, the number of actual reported assaults stood at 294. But last year's figure of 476 attacks represents a 62% jump from 2008/9.

Theresa May, who was shadow work and pensions secretary at the time, said the figures were "shocking" and the Government was partly responsible.

"Jobcentre staff are doing their best in very difficult circumstances with centres coming under increasing pressure because of rising benefit claims during the recession," said Mrs May, at the time.

In 2010/11 the total number of assaults was 245. By the following year, in 2011/12, there were 298 incidents recorded.

A DWP spokeswoman said: "Any attack on our staff - physical or verbal - is entirely unacceptable. Their safety, and the safety of our customers, has always been of primary importance.

"Fortunately, assaults are extremely rare and this has remained the case over the last five years."

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